Gov. Abercrombie signs HB 1060, while Senator Carol Fukunaga, DAGS Comptroller Bruce Coppa and DAGS Deputy Director Ryan Okahara look on.
Gov. Abercrombie signs HB 1060, while Senator Carol Fukunaga, DAGS Comptroller Bruce Coppa and DAGS Deputy Director Ryan Okahara look on.

BY EDDIE KIM – Governor Neil Abercrombie announced on Tuesday, June 7 that the state will have, for the first time, a full-time Chief Information Officer (CIO) to spearhead the government’s campaign to develop and renew the state’s information technology systems and tech resources.

Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia, the current Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies – a department of the U.S. General Services Administration – accepted the position and will begin his first day as Hawaii’s CIO on July 6, 2011.

Bhagowalia has extensive previous experience as a CIO, having held the position at both the U.S. Department of the Interior and with the Bureau of Indian Affairs & Bureau of Indian Education.  He also spent 14 years in the private sector as the Chief Engineer/Manager of Boeing Information Services.

He was selected out of a pool of 100 candidates by a panel of Hawaii officials from various departments with the advisement of two state CIOs, from Louisiana and Utah.

Gov. Abercrombie’s announcement was part of a new bill that was signed into law on Tuesday.  House Bill 1060 allocates funds for the newly-created Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT), which will initially be comprised of 7 people and will be led by Bhagowalia.

Gov. Abercrombie was joined at the ceremony by Comptroller Bruce Coppa, who heads the Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS), along with DAGS Deputy Director Ryan Okahara and Senator Carol Fukunaga.  All three stressed that the creation of the OIMT and hiring of a full-time CIO was not merely beneficial, but necessary for the future of the state.

“We haven’t been able to keep up with I.T. in terms of money, of capital expenditures.  We still have old Wang computers out there.  There are some of you in the room saying ‘What’s that?’” Gov. Abercrombie said with a hearty chuckle.

Comptroller Coppa agreed with the Governor’s sentiments.  “Seriously, when Deputy Director Okahara and I both took office, it was clear that I.T. was malfunctioning in the state,” he said.  “Let me give you the biggest example.  We lack a data center (a facility used to house computer systems, telecommunications and redundancy systems such as backup storage access).  We have backup tapes that we load up on carts and truck over to the Archives building for safekeeping in case of a catastrophe.”

“The problem is,” he continued, “if there is a catastrophe, we’ve got nowhere to actually recover that information.  Everyone has a back up data center.  We don’t.”

Gov. Abercrombie emphasized that at it’s heart, the problem was a result of a lack of funding to this point.

“This is one of the few instances where – well, some say ‘You can’t throw money at a problem and solve it.’  Here, we can.  The question is, are we throwing the right amount of money in exactly the right direction?  That’s what we’re going to present to the Legislature.”

According to the Governor, the OIMT and the new CIO will draft a comprehensive budget and development plan to present to the Legislature in January of 2012 in order to obtain long-term funding.

Until then, the salaries of the CIO, the OIMT, and for other expenditures will be used from 3 million dollars of grant funding from the Hawaii Community Foundation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting efforts within the state to improve quality of life – which Gov. Abercrombie credited with making the bill passing and hiring of a CIO possible.

Along with this, approximately $1.2 million will be taken out of the Shared Services Technology Special Fund starting next year as needed, said DAGS Deputy Director Okahara.

Curiously, Hawaii is one of the last states to institute a full-time CIO, according to Gov. Abercrombie.  But Comptroller Coppa wasn’t discouraged by the state’s seeming tardiness to addressing the issue of I.T. and government.

“Today is a good day,” he said with a grin.  “We’re going to see how government becomes more and more efficient with the help of technology.”